The Beasts of Terror/Las Bestias del Terror/Santo Y Blue Demon En Las Bestias del Terror (1973)

‘Your energy and blood will be used to give life to that cadaver and so discover the mystery of the central neurons.’

A small-time criminal kidnaps the sister of a millionaire with the aid of his ruthless girlfriend. Unfortunately, they cross paths with a mad scientist who wants to use the women in his experiments with resurrecting the dead. An agent investigating the case calls on the assistance of famous luchadores El Santo and the Blue Demon…

Misleadingly named Lucha libre outing for our favourite wrestling crimefighters, Santo and the Blue Demon. Rather than tackle the monsters implied in the title, their mission here is to unravel a kidnapping plot, albeit complicated by the presence of a mad scientist and his somewhat obscure mission statement.

Pedro (Aropnio de Hud) is in a spot of bother. Owing a lot of money to crimelord, Lucky (Quintin Bulnes) isn’t a good idea if you can’t pay it back, and he’s only saved from having it taken out of his hide by the intervention of pistol-packin’ girlfriend, Nora (Elena Cárdenas). Together, the two plan to pay off by kidnapping blonde bombshell Susie (Alma Ferrari), sister of millionaire Laura (María Antonia del Río). She agrees to pay the ransom but engages top investigator Tony Carelli (César del Campo) to find her sibling.

All goes well for our modern-day bandits before they are undone by that most fickle twist of fate: the plot contrivance. Stopping at the roadside to take a leak, de Hud finds himself at the wrong end of a gun barrel wielded by Sandro (Fernando Osés), who is not only a henchman of mad scientist Professor Matthews (Victor Junco) but also used to be Bulnes’ right-hand man. It seems the good Prof’s corpse wagon has a flat just down the road after a late-night expedition to puck up some raw material. Junco likes what he sees and takes the unfortunate trio back to his boiler room laboratory. You have to feel sorry for Ferrari – kidnapped twice in one day!

Fortunately, del Campo has several aces up his sleeve; first, his girlfriend Alma (the statuesque Idania del Cañal) happens to dance at Bulnes’ cabaret. She’s good at eavesdropping and provides some helpful intel, which I suppose makes a change from her job, which seems to involve wriggling her hips a little when the club is empty, which, apparently, is all the time! Better still, de Campo is on friendly terms with both Blue Demon and El Santo, and both are happy to help out, although old Silver Mask does seem a bit busy with other things.

This is an unusual hybrid of the two genres most associated with Lucha libre films and emerges as a pretty standard crime thriller with a few outlandish elements. Most of the run time is taken up with de Campo playing detective (his official status is never really established), aided from time to time by the muscles and brains of our grappling heroes. Switch out Junco’s scientist for a crime boss, and it would make little difference to the story development. His experiments are almost incidental and cheerfully vague; they involve bringing beautiful young women back from the dead by infusing them with the life force of living girls. The resulting zombies have no memory, are obedient to his will and therefore can be sold on to a sinister man in a turban. Yes, our mad scientist is not planning world domination apparently, just sex trafficking with corpses.

In line with this development, which is covered in a couple of brief scenes, the film attempts to adopt a more adult (i.e. sleazy) tone at times. Junco lusts after Cárdenas, having her whipped by Osés before declaring his undying devotion to her. His deformed assistant also feels frisky, but the object of his attention is Ferrari, and she has to play up to him as part of an escape plan. Add to this the fact that both actresses are in hot pants throughout, and director Alfredo B. Crevenna chooses to end the first scene with an unapologetic zoom into Cárdenas’ chest area, and you get the idea. Neither Santo nor Blue Demon is involved in any of that, of course, but producers were making a conscious effort to try and broaden Santo’s appeal since the late 1960s and were attempting to target a more mature audience.

The film also demonstrates why Blue Demon fostered a bitter resentment towards his silver-masked colleague. Once again, he gets more screen time but is portrayed as incapable of resolving anything without the great man’s help. Early on, the clueless de Campo walks into a trap and is beaten up by the crime lord’s goons, but, never fear, Blue has his back. Only there are too many of them for him, and he gets the tar kicked out of him too until – you guessed it – Santo arrives like the proverbial cavalry and drives the thugs away. Seconds later, he blithely announces he’s off to get a plane to Mexico, leaving the picture for most of the second act and dumping the whole mess into Blue’s lap. Thanks, mate! Of course, he returns for the climax because God knows you can’t trust Blue to resolve anything without his help. Also, despite far less screentime, we see Santo in the ring twice and Blue only once. These sequences are pretty obviously real matches edited in because of the difference in picture quality and the fact that, during Blue’s bout, a title card pops up announcing the second round!

Osés, a former wrestler himself, not only appeared as Sandro but wrote the screenplay (as he did for many of these films) and served as executive producer. Cárdenas, who appeared with Elvis in ‘Fun In Acapulco’ (1963), guest-starred on Ron Ely’s ‘Tarzan’ TV show and had a small role in Sam Peckinpah’s ‘The Wild Bunch’ (1969), was also a familiar face in the series. She had leading parts in ‘Santo Faces Death/Santo frente a la muerte’ (1969), ‘Santo vs. The Vice Mafia/Santo contra la mafia del vicio’ (1971) and ‘The Mummies of Guanajuato/Las momias de Guanajuato’ (1972). In 1973 alone, she appeared in two further entries before switching to television, where she enjoyed a highly successful career of more than four decades. Mad scientist Junco starred in one of the films that started it all; ‘El enmascarado de plata’ (1954), which was originally intended as Santo’s big-screen debut. Of course, he also turned up in several other legitimate entries in the series and alongside Blue Demon in a couple of his solo ventures.

Unsurprisingly, director Crevenna was also closely tied to the series and had a long career in Mexican fantastic cinema anyway, taking a bow with the surprisingly sober ‘Invisible Man In Mexico’ (1959). Before his first assignment with the man in the silver mask, he worked with rival luchador Neutron in a series that included the wonderfully titled ‘Neutron Battles the Karate Assassins’ (1965). His science fiction pedigree also included ‘Adventure at the Centre of the Earth’ (1965) and ‘Planet of the Female Invaders’ (1966), but he’s best remembered for his work with El Santo and some of Blue Demon’s solo outings. These included the much loved ‘Santo vs The Martian Invasion/Santo el Enmascarado de Plata vs ‘La invasión de Los marcianos’ (1967) and ‘Blue Demon Versus the Infernal Brains/Blue Demon contra cerebros infernales’ (1966).

A rather makeweight entry in the series but enjoyable nonetheless, although the title is inaccurate unless you want to apply it to our two grappling heroes!

Santo and the Vengeance of the Mummy/Santo en la venganza de la momia (1971)

‘Since they started making those plastic glasses, I’ve had so many embarrassments.’

Following the translation of an ancient codex, an archaeologist assembles a team to enter the Mexican jungle and locate the tomb of an Aztec warrior. The expedition is successful, but the Mummy disappears from the crypt, and group members begin to die one by one…

Riffing on Universal’s classic monster films of the 1930s and 1940s was hardly a new approach for Mexican Horror cinema by this point. Pitting legendary luchador Santo against another iteration of the Aztec Mummy, who had already had his own series of films beginning in the late 1950s, was hardly going to win director René Cardona any awards for originality.

Jumping straight into the square ring for some grappling action, the film’s opening finds our hero in the Silver Mask in some serious tag team action. His partner, the red-masked Rebel, is out for the count, thanks to the dirty tactics of opponents Angelo and Casanova, those ‘famous Italians.’ However, dealing with these upstarts proves a minor inconvenience, and he’s on time for his meeting with archaeologist Professor Romero (César del Campo). Other delegatres at this brief discussion are anthropologist Professor Jiménez (Carlos Ancira), photographer Susana (Mary Montiel), engineer Sergio Morales (Eric del Castillo) and del Campo’s secretary Rosa Bermúdez (Alma Rojo). Everyone agrees to come along, of course, and, less than two minutes after Santo’s victory in the arena, we join them all in the jungle.

The expedition has linked up with Chief Guide Carlos Suárez, and he’s recruited a bunch of rather shifty locals to act as porters, who are not at all interested in the rumours of hidden treasure at the burial site. Also joining the group are the elderly Plácido (Alejandro Reyna) and his grandson Agapito (Niño Jorgito). Reyna is initially reluctant to give the interlopers the benefit of his local knowledge. However, Montiel promises they will pay for Jorgito’s education after the old man is gone (which isn’t a red flag at all). In what must have been a major disappointment for fans of the previous entry ‘Santo vs The Head Hunters/Santo contra los cazadores de cabezas’ (1971), endless hours of our heroes trekking through the undergrowth does not follow. Instead, we flash forward to everyone safely encamped at the dig site. What’s more, engineer del Castillo has already sorted out any necessary excavations, and all that remains is the final breakthrough to the funerary crypt.

Its occupant turns out to be Nonoc, an Aztec noble who was buried alive a thousand years before. He wiled away the initial hours of his entombment by writing out some exposition on a parchment, which is helpful for everyone, especially as Reyna can translate. It turns out to be the same old story; man loves virgin, man kidnaps virgin from the shadow of the sacrificial altar. Man and virgin run off into the jungle but are captured just before he can disqualify her from her religious duties. Virgin is sacrificed, man is buried alive. It’s a familiar tale to anyone with a passing knowledge of Karloff and Chaney Jr’s adventures in bandages for Universal. It’s also hardly earthshaking that the would-be lover put a curse on the descendants of those that condemned him. This is bad news for Reyna because he happens to be one of them!

Those familiar with the original Aztec Mummy series may recall that the creature was brought back to life by removing the ‘Holy Breastplate’, and Nonoc is similarly non-plussed when the idiotic Ancira relieves him of the ‘Necklace of Death.’ That night the Mummy goes for a little walk that ends up at Reyna’s tent and exit one team member, the deadly deed witnessed by grandson Jorgito. The kid wakes everyone up, and they find the Mummy is gone from the tomb. Faced with this evidence, everyone believes his story, however impossible it might seem. Five minutes later, they find Nonoc having a quiet lie down in the girls’ tent, and the boy’s tale becomes ‘scientifically impossible’, and no one believes him. To prove that the creature is dead, del Campo drives a dagger three times into its mummified chest, thus displaying a sound knowledge of scientific protocol and an appropriate respect for ancient cultures and their dead. Nice one Professor, pick up your Nobel Prize on the way out.

The Mummy begins a reign of terror with his bow and poisoned arrows while our heroes endlessly vacillate between believing in his resurrection one minute and then dismissing the possibility as nonsense the next. Of course, the porters try to desert, so Santo gives them a sound thrashing. Unsurprisingly, this doesn’t prove to be an effective man-management strategy, and they all head for the hills the moment his back is turned. Worse still, his budding romance with Montiel is derailed by a call to dinner, and he’s obliged to take care of the orphaned Jorgito. Given the number of boys he’s adopted over the series, it’s a wonder the local social services haven’t paid him a visit! Meanwhile, Nonoc displays a surprising grasp of the 20th Century by burning down the supply tent and wrecking their radio! Not bad for someone who’s been out of the loop for a thousand years.

None of this qualifies as great cinema, of course. Still, it’s undeniably entertaining, with director Cardona infusing the proceedings with far more pace and incident displayed in some of the other entries in the series. Screenwriter Alfredo Salazar can perhaps also be forgiven for straying rather close to the plot elements and scripts of the old Aztec Mummy series. It wasn’t plagiarism, after all, because he co-wrote those original films! On the debit side, he saddles us with Ancira as the tiresome comic relief. The character wanders into the movie somewhat like the ‘wacky egghead’ who dragged down many of Jules Verne’s literary escapades.

Nonoc is not too impressive as a movie monster. He gets the quiver of arrows on his back caught up in the paraphernalia inside a tent and takes some moments to extricate himself. Cardona uses the take, of course. I mean, who needs another? At the risk of engaging in spoilers, the creature’s behaviour and some of the plot’s more ridiculous developments are explained by a late twist in the tale, even if it does raise its own questions of credibility.

Jorgito’s adoption by Santo takes on an interesting twist when you check the boy’s other movie credits; two appearances under the name of Jorge Guzmán, both in other films of the series. Twelve years later, he attempted to revive his film career playing one of the title roles in ‘Chanoc y el hijo del Santo contra los vampiros asesinos/Chanoc and the Son of Santo vs the Killer Vampires’ (1981). Yes, he was Santo’s real-life son and, although his screen career never amounted to more than a couple of films, he had far more success following in his father’s footsteps in the square ring.

Cardona was in the director’s chair for several of Santo’s more outlandish adventures, such as ‘Santo and Dracula’s Treasure/Santo en El tesoro de Drácula’ (1968) and was one of the leading figures in Mexican cult cinema for several decades. His career began in earnest in the 1930s, but it was more than a quarter century before he joined the horror boom with supernatural folk rale ‘La Llorona’ (1960). From there, it was a short step to ‘Doctor Doom/Las luchadoras contra el médico asesino’ (1963), ‘Wrestling Women vs the Aztec Mummy/Las luchadoras contra la momia’ (1964) and ‘The Batwoman/La mujer murcielago’ (1968) and many others, often involving Salazar on scripting duties. He also birthed a directing dynasty with son, René Cardona Jr and grandson, René Cardona III also taking up the megaphone.

One of the breezier and more enjoyable of Santo’s monster mash-ups.

Santo vs the Head Hunters/Santo contra los cazadores de cabezas (1971)

‘It seems impossible that such a thing could exist in the space age.’

A lost tribe of head hunters kidnap a young woman who is the direct descendant of the conquistador that almost wiped them out, planning to sacrifice her to their gods. Her father calls in a famous masked wrestler, and they form an expedition and head into the jungle in hot pursuit…

Legendary luchador Santo goes on a jungle movie adventure, courtesy of co-writer and director René Cardona. By this point in the long-running series, the masked wrestler had successfully tackled the Mafia, witches, Dracula and aliens, to name just a few, so how hard could an excursion through the interior to fight some tribesmen possibly be?

After near extinction at the hands of the conquistadors, the Hibaro Indians have kept firmly under the radar. Lately, however, they’ve touched base with bad man Tirso (Guillermo Hernández), who has convinced them to take action to restore their rightful place in the world. However, before they can do that, they must take their vengeance on pretty blonde Mariana (Nadia Milton), a direct descendant of their original nemesis. Conveniently, her family’s butler Husca (Enrique Lucero), is one of the tribe, and they contrive to send her a black orchid and a legendary amulet called the ‘Golden Anaconda’. Her father, Don Alonso Grijalva (director Cardona), has the relic pronounced as genuine by expert Professor Castro (Enrique Pontón), who values it beyond price. Rather than put in a museum, however, Milton wears it out on a date with boyfriend Carlos (Freddy Fernández) and is promptly kidnapped and whisked off into the jungle.

The distraught Cardona wastes no time forming a safari to run the miscreants down, bringing in guide Pancho (Carlos Suárez) and none other than Santo to lead the party. The tribesmen have a good head start already and Professor Pontón thinks that Milton is headed for a date with the sacrificial knife, but he also believes the ceremony won’t take place for some time yet. A long chase through the jungle ensues with the tribe’s witch doctor using his magical arts to place obstacles in the way, such as a river crocodile and a jaguar. Warriors also carry out a series of attacks, and the rescue party become rapidly diminished.

Santo on safari like a modern-day Jungle Jim is not, of itself, a flawed concept for a film, and the first half-hour that sets up the adventure is entertaining enough. There’s a decent pace and an opening scene of our hero seeing off some criminal types that later ties into the story, albeit somewhat vaguely. Unfortunately, a couple of minutes into their rescue mission, our heroes run out of road, and the film runs out of plot. An audience gains little satisfaction from scenes of people walking, and Cardona’s film has them in abundance. Occasionally, there’s a little bit of business to break them up, but these events come across as contrived and serve no real purpose other than to slowly whittle down the numbers of Santo’s group and place more of the heroic burden on the great man’s shoulders.

The action, such as it is, is relentlessly underwhelming. Santo makes like Johnny Weissmuller with the crocodile in the river and also wrestles the jaguar to two falls and a submission. However, both creatures look a good deal smaller and less animated when sharing the frame with our hero than they appeared initially. There’s also a ‘blink, and you’ll miss it’ attack by vampire bats and a traitor in the camp. Santo deals with the latter by throwing him into the river, where he immediately explodes because it’s filled with electric eels. Scientifically plausible, of course. Best of all, the villain’s hat meets the same fate, only for it to reappear a few seconds later, floating down the river behind the Man in the Silver Mask, looking completely undamaged. There’s also a wonderful moment when the group builds a defensive stockade. A couple of poles begin to slide slowly to the ground and collide gently with Cardona along their way. Ever the consummate professional, the actor-director simply pushes them back into place and uses the take anyway.

If it doesn’t seem like there’s much here for even hardened fans of the series, then there’s a minor payoff during the last ten minutes when our heroes finally reach the tribe’s headquarters. Santo puts the hurt on various warriors, of course, as everyone panics, but then he’s joined by Cardona. So we get a wonderful moment where the two are fighting off head hunters standing back to back on the sacrificial altar. Given that Cardona directed many of Santo’s earlier and subsequent cinematic adventures, it’s kind of an iconic moment. I guess. There’s also some amusement to be had watching the faces of the extras playing the tribe as they troop past the camera. Never in the history of showbusiness have movie stars looked so bored.

Not only was Cardona responsible for more than half a dozen of Santo’s films, but his filmography is littered with other examples of fantastical Mexican cinema. ‘La Llorona’ (1960) opened the floodgates, quickly followed by the trio of films starring Lorena Velázquez and Elizabeth Campbell, which included the classic ‘Wrestling Women vs The Aztec Mummy/Las luchadoras contra la momia’ (1964). Other projects followed such as ‘The Panther Woman/Las mujeres panteras’ (1967), ‘The Batwoman/La mujer murcielago’ (1967), ‘Night of the Bloody Apes/La horripilante bestia humana’ (1969) and ‘Blue Demon and Zovek in The Invasion of the Dead/Blue Demon y Zovek en La invasión de los muertos’ (1973). He also has over 100 acting credits, which stretch all the way from 1928 until his death in the late 1980s.

Not Santo’s finest hour; this is one for the die-hard fans only.

Santo vs the Riders of Terror/Santo contra los jinetes del terror (1970)

‘No, sir, I am not escaping from justice, nor am I a leper.’

In old Mexico, a small town is thrown into a panic when half a dozen lepers escape from a nearby sanatarium. While the Sheriff and the doctor in charge try to keep order, a gang of cutthroats take the opportunity to start a crime spree and blame the escaped patients…

Santo goes West! After battling vampires, Martians, mobsters and evil scientists, it’s time for the Man in the Silver Mask to go up against some rootin’ tootin’ bank robbers in this curious diversion in his long-running adventures.

It’s bad news for young Sheriff Dario (Armando Silvestre) when six inmates stage a midnight escape from the San Lazaro Leprosarium just down the road. The lepers raid two remote farmsteads afterwards, sending their occupants screaming into the night, and the next day, the local townspeople want an immediate necktie party. Silvestre manages to keep a lid on things with the help of Dr Ramos (Carlo Agosti), the head of the institute.

Unfortunately, things escalate quickly. After a date with Silvestre, his bride to be, Carmen (Mary Montiel), surprises a burglar, and her father is shot dead while she lies unconscious on the floor. The fugitives get the blame, of course, but it’s actually the handiwork of secret gang of cutthroats, led by local bad boy Camerino (Julio Almada). Seeing an excellent opportunity to deflect the blame, he plans a series of crimes, culminating in robbing the town’s bank. Fortunately, the clueless Silvestre happens to know a certain man in a silver mask…

Quite possibly the oddest entry in the entire filmography of legendary luchador El Santo. Director René Cardona doesn’t offer any outlandish or bizarre events over the 90 minute run time, but the film is a straight Western. Over the years, cinema has given us a long list of heroic Western archetypes; gunfighters, pioneers, lawmen, drovers, gamblers, cavalrymen, homesteaders and trail scouts. Not too many masked wrestlers, though.

Of course, the story is not entirely divorced from the tried and trusted Santo formula. Early on, there’s some square ring action as he takes on man-mountain El Toro, the main attraction of a travelling show. Triumphant, of course, the great man gives the cash prize away to three watching nuns who run an orphanage. It’s also an instant decision that the lepers are probably not responsible for the bad things happening in the area. How does he know? Because he’s El Santo, of course.

What’s open for speculation, though, is when the action is supposed to be taking place. All the characters are dressed in period or classic Western clothing, and there’s no sign of the 20th Century anywhere, not even a telegraph or railroad. So is this the late 1800s? Has Santo gone back in time? Well, I guess it’s possible, given that he invented a time machine in ‘Santo and Dracula’s Treasure/Santo en El tesoro de Drácula’ (1968).

One of the film’s few talking points is how Cardona presents the lepers. Lurching mutely out of the shadows with the camera lingering on their disfigured faces, they bear more than a slight resemblance to the popular zombie form created by George A Romero in ‘Night of the Living Dead’ (1968). Creepy music plays, women faint and scream and grown men head for the hills. It’s all a bit of a contrast to the scenes where Silvestre and Agosti try to explain that the lepers are just ordinary men with a horrible disease. Agosti’s words display a somewhat greater consideration of mercy than Cardona’s camera.

However, late on in the picture, when the lepers’ are allowed to appear more sympathetic, we get a strangely pointless flashback featuring the doomed romance of their leader, Jose (Gregorio Casals) and his lady love Lupe (Ivonne Govea). Perhaps this scene would make more sense when viewed in the film’s ‘sexy’ version. Yes, an alternate cut that includes female nudity did play in some territories, although no prints are currently available, and it seems lost. In another example of good taste and judgement, this version was titled ‘Los leprosos y el sexo’, which translates into English as ‘The Lepers and Sex.’

A curious and relatively anonymous chapter in the adventures of El Santo. If only he’d worn a cowboy hat.

The World of the Dead/Land of the Dead/El mundo del los muertos (1970)

‘Maybe the tarantula bit you and made you hallucinate, my son.’

In the late 17th Century, the Holy Inquisition burns four young men and a witch accused of making pacts with the devil. The sorceress vows revenge on the descendants of the Knight who accused her. Three hundred years later, she returns to fulfil the deadly curse…

Glorious cavalcade of straight-faced horror lunacy that finds Mexico’s legendary luchador El Santo facing off once more against the forces of evil. Raising the stakes is the presence of real-life rival the Blue Demon working on the side of Satan and a frenetic pace from director Gilberto Martínez Solares that was either the result of pre-release pruning or some kind of hyperactivity problem.

Once a hero, always a hero. Back in the 17th Century, the ancestor of silver-masked wrestler El Santo has allied himself with the church in a holy mission to rid the land of witchcraft and the minions of Satan. Top of the agenda is passing judgement on four acolytes of the local witch, who they believe to be the Lady Damiana Velazquez (Pilar Pellicer). The High Inquisitor (Antonio Raxel) and his clerical sidekick, the Bishop (Guillermo Álvarez Bianchi), order the men burnt at the stake.

Pellicer plots revenge against the Knight in the Silver Mask (Santo), who she holds responsible for the execution of her followers. Invoking Satan (played by VoiceOver Man), she conjures an emissary from Hell to help out. This is the Blue Knight (Blue Demon), who had been trapped in the netherworld but is now placed at her command. He fights with Santo, but the result is inconclusive and speeding up the footage in the editing suite was not a wise filmmaking choice.

As was often the case for any femme fatale interacting with the great man, the evil Pellicer is torn between seduction and assassination. Of course, Santo rejects her in favour of the church and his lady love, blonde beauty Aurora (Betty Nelson), who sleeps in full makeup, false eyelashes and a black negligee. Pellicer doesn’t take it well and attempts to kill him with a ceremonial dagger but is overpowered. Her failure displeases Satan, who commands Blue Demon to resurrect the dead to finish the job, courtesy of some tinted inserts from Mario Bava’s ‘Hercules In The Haunted World’ (1961).

These musclemen attack Santo in his home but, rather than engage in the usual grappling antics, a full-on sword fight develops instead. A swashbuckling Santo swings from the chandelier and thrusts and parries in the best Errol Flynn tradition. But it’s hard to hurt those who are already dead, and things are starting to look desperate until he realises they fear the cross, and at cock crow, they all vanish with the snip of an editor’s scissors. They don’t appear to be vampires, but the supernatural status of all Satan’s agents seems cheerfully vague here. Unfortunately, Pellicer is taking advantage of the diversion to pay Nelson a visit, and tea and scones are most definitely not on the menu.

If this all sounds like a rollicking period horror, then it is. Santo gets some nifty medieval threads, and the rest of the costuming and details look on point. Director Solares also opts to film all the devilish antics in broad daylight with the aid of only occasional swirls of fog and smoke. This approach works surprisingly well and helps emphasise the well-chosen locations; an old stone ruin and a neglected cemetery. But all this is just the first half-hour of the movie! Yes, at the conclusion of the first act, Pellicer is summarily apprehended, tried and burned, cursing the descendants of everyone involved. This concept of generational revenge is a highly familiar horror movie trope, of course, but it appears in so many Mexican films of this period that it seems to have reached the stage of a national filmmaking obsession. A movie where it fails to appear is usually a surprise.

Fast-forwarding three hundred years, we find the descendants of the original principals living in the same town, all acquainted and, of course, each bearing an uncanny resemblance to their forebears. Bishop Bianchi has been reincarnated as Father Francisco (he’s doing the same job in the same costume!), and a couple of the other supporting players from the early scenes appear as guests at a present-day party. The one notable exception is Nelson, who doesn’t appear.

Santo’s intended is now Alicia, the daughter of Don Alfonso (Antonio Rexel). As the same actor played the High Inquisitor in the first part of the film, the character is obviously supposed to be a direct descendant. This is a bit of a problem because Pellicer plays his daughter, and she is definitely from the witch’s bloodline. So exactly how did these two families converge? The film never addresses the question. Perhaps the idea of a high church official and a witch having a more than professional relationship would not have been acceptable to the audience of the time, and producers removed some explanatory scenes or dialogue.

Pellicer’s revenge is almost exclusively centred on Santo, though, and the story quickly dissolves into an almost endless series of attempts on his life. These usually feature the resurrected musclemen from earlier. One of whom appears against him in the square ring, cunningly disguised as a fellow wrestler by wearing a towel over his head. The bout doesn’t go well for our hero, who gets stabbed and rushed into the operating theatre for emergency surgery. This is an amazingly brief sequence with no apparent consequences, but it does allow director Solares to include some real-life footage of open-heart surgery (thanks, mate!)

Of course, it all ends with the great man travelling to Hell to bring back the soul of the dying Alicia. Most of these climatic sequences feature Santo and Pellicer running across ‘the bridge between life and death’ (it’s just an ordinary rope bridge in a wood somewhere) and more inserts from ‘Hercules In The Haunted World’ (1961). But Solares does stick a red lens on the camera, so everything looks appropriately apocalyptic.

Where to begin? This is one bat-shit crazy chapter in the cinematic adventures of Santo. On the one hand, it’s attempting a very sombre tone. The impressive musical soundtrack by veteran composer Gustavo César Carrión reinforces that this is supposed to be a serious horror picture. The early scenes of the cult members burning at the stake are surprisingly graphic for this vintage, with full-body makeup showing their skins beginning to blister.

But the screenplay by Rafael García Travis is so resolutely jam-packed with incidents that it quickly becomes both silly and hilarious. Santo also loses both of his separate bouts in the square ring – sacrilege! – although it’s unlikely that either result was allowed to stand. I know that wrestling rules can be flexible, but stabbing your opponent with a ceremonial dagger is probably a disqualification. Similarly, in the earlier match, Santo’s opponent did throw the referee out of the ring and then attempted to throttle him with a towel, which I’m guessing is not a move endorsed by the relevant wrestling commission.

Santo goes to Hell, thanks to his ‘sense of justice’ and a convenient camera dissolve. Truly, there wasn’t any type of problem that the great man couldn’t handle.

Blue Demon vs. The Satanic Power/Blue Demon vs. El Poder Satanico (1966)

‘Magnificent! Now to the morgue, and soon I will be free!’

An aristocratic serial killer is sentenced to hang but is found dead in his cell on the morning of his execution. In reality, he has assumed a catatonic state and is planning to wake later on, but instead, he is buried alive. Fifty years later, graverobbers disturb his tomb, and he is free to continue his murderous rampage…

The phenomenal big-screen success of Mexican wrestling legend El Santo paved the way for more luchadors to strut their stuff before the cameras, and a series of films starring Blue Demon was almost an inevitability. After all, he was the man’s great rival in the square ring, and the box office potential was obvious.

It’s 1914, and mysterious nobleman Gustavo Fernández (Jaime Fernández) has been convicted of the murders of several young women. The authorities might not have uncovered his secret lair, but they have the man and summarily sentence him to be executed. However, he has a plan which he helpfully explains to a fellow resident on death row the night before he’s due for the chop. He’s going to use his mental powers to play dead, wake up in the morgue and then make his escape. His scheme unravels when the authorities decide to take him straight to the burying ground instead. Luckily, after a half-century of watching the worms crawl by, he’s sprung from his prison by graverobbers looking for jewels, and he’s back in business.

The world may have moved on in the fifty years since his incarceration, but some things never change. His secret headquarters has remained undiscovered in all that time and, although the housework may have fallen behind, it’s still the perfect bachelor pad for this suave serial killer. Really, the Mexican authorities do have to get better at uncovering these places; almost every mad scientist, supervillain, criminal mastermind finds his secret laboratory/headquarters intact after he gets out of jail or returns from the dead. Perhaps they should set up a special unit to track these criminal lairs down. It would save a lot of trouble in the long term.

Anyway, Fernández picks up right where he left off, sending beautiful women into a trance, taking them to bed and then ordering them to walk into his household furnace. I guess he’s not a guy for long relationships. Unfortunately for him, one of the women he targets is the girlfriend of the cousin of top wrestler Blue Demon and, when the cousin is left dead at the scene, our grappling hero vows to bring his killer to justice. After some encouraging words from Santo, appearing courtesy of a brief cameo, Blue begins to investigate as Fernández continues with his reign of terror.

This was Blue Demon’s second starring picture after taking his bow as a leading man in ‘Blue Demon: El Demonio Azul’ (1965), and yes, that title does translate into English as ‘Blue Demon, the Blue Demon.’ Predictably, the filmmakers behind the series were many of those involved in Santo’s movies, most significantly producer Luis Enrique Vergara. By all accounts, the personal and professional relationship between Vergara and Santo was rapidly disintegrating by this time, so it made perfect sense for the producer to look for another star, and Blue Demon was the obvious candidate. Unfortunately, what emerged in this instance was a low-budget, patchwork adventure painfully cobbled together in a way that did little to hide its limited ambition and resources.

At first, events follow the familiar pattern for these types of escapades. The plot sets up our main villain and provides the audience with sufficient exposition regarding his history and method of operations. This is all quite promising, although it soon becomes clear that Fernández is only using his impressive mental powers to pick up chicks and get laid. Yes, that’s it; no bizarre scientific experiments, no plans for world domination; he just wants to get his rocks off. So while Fernández visits nightclubs picking up girls (a couple of them lip-synch a full-length pop song first, so I’m guessing they were singers with records out?), Blue is busy wrestling at the arena. And that’s the first half of the film. We also get Santo taking part in a match before his cameo, but this is footage lifted from ‘Santo vs. el Rey del Crimen/Santo vs. the King of Crime’ (1961).

In the second half of the film, Blue begins to investigate, but this mainly entails him sitting in a darkened room, reading a book, which I like to think was called ‘How to Defeat a Supernatural Hypnotist in 10 Easy Lessons.’ According to the English subtitles, this weighty tome also includes details of the disappearance of Fernández’s corpse and the murder of the graverobbers. Handy. All this research somehow enables Blue to locate Fernández’s hideaway (no one else could manage it in half a century, remember!). So our hero makes a quick visit to confirm his suspicions and then goes back home to ring the police. Having realised that Blue is on to him via his wonderfully unspecified powers, Fernández turns up at Blue’s home with ten minutes of the film left. Everything is set for a final epic showdown, but it turns out to be little more than an extended staring contest.

If it wasn’t for Blue and Fernández appearing in the same shot a couple of times near the end of the film, you could be forgiven for thinking that this was an example of new footage being added to an abandoned, unfinished film. Hero and villain have almost no interaction over the 78 minutes of running time; it’s padded out with pop songs, punters throwing shapes on a nightclub dance floor and Spanish-speaking VoiceOver Man filling us in on what Blue is reading in his book. Ok, Fernández does watch one of Blue’s contests from the cheap seats but it’s only because he’s hypnotised opponent Fernando Osés (who also wrote the film’s original story) to kill our masked hero, so it’s just reaction shots when his scheme fails.

But, despite all those telltale signs of something cobbled together, apparently, this was not the case. Perhaps its shortcomings speak more to an evaporating budget during the shoot? After all, the early sequences set in the past and those of Fernández stalking his prey are well-shot by veteran director Chano Urueta and boast plenty of supporting players in the nightclub scenes. However, in the latter half of the film, we get only our two principals and a couple of faceless cops. The film doesn’t even establish a heroine for Blue to save from Fernández at the climax.

Blue Demon enjoyed a movie career of over 20 titles and was often partnered with Santo. Sadly, the two did not enjoy a friendly working relationship. Blue bested Santo in a series of matches in the early 1950s to win the NWA World Welterweight Championship but never achieved his opponent’s unprecedented level of popularity in the country, something he apparently found difficult to accept. He carried on wrestling until 1989, retiring from the ring at the age of 67. He spent the final decade of his life teaching younger grapplers his skills and died in 2000.

A rather feeble entry in the Mexpoitation genre. Fortunately, Blue Demon was better served by later projects.

Santo will return in ‘Santo vs. The Martian Invasion/Santo el Enmascarado de Plata vs ‘La invasión de los marcianos’ (1966)

El Enmascarado de Plata/The Silver-Masked Man (1954)

‘Just get up for a rabbit shot!’

A series of seemingly natural disasters sweep across Mexico, including a raging hurricane and flooding. These have been engineered by a masked supervillain who plans to hold the government to ransom. Fortunately, a wrestling crime fighter is out to thwart his dastardly plan…

Important early film in the development of the Mexican wrestling genre from director René Cardona and writer José G. Cruz. Originally released as a serial in the United States, it was trimmed to a two-hour feature for domestic audiences, and it’s only this version that survives today.

It’s a hard life being the ‘Man in the Silver Mask’. Fulfilling evil plans for world domination is a complicated business, after all, and it costs money, lots of it. So, not only do you have to invent and operate diabolical machines of destruction, but you also need to run a criminal gang to obtain the necessary cash. And that means planning robberies and dodging the police (not a problem) and masked wrestler El Médico Asesino (not so easy). Yes, a big, muscly man in doctor’s scrubs is his nemesis and the film’s hero. But, hang on, where is El Santo? Wasn’t the star of more than 50 movies, many directed by Cardona, known as ‘El Enmascarado de Plata’? And wasn’t he a hero? Of course he was. So what’s going on here?

Appearing in the ring as the silver-masked El Santo, by the end of the 1940s, Rodolfo Guzmán Huerta was arguably the most popular wrestler in Mexico. But his character was a villain, and it was necessary to turn him into a hero to capitalise on that success. Part of this process involved a series of comic books launched in 1952 and written by José G. Cruz. These were highly popular, and a movie seemed the next logical step. However, Santo passed on the project for reasons that seem unrecorded. Cruz was less than impressed with the decision and so tweaked his original screenplay to turn ‘El Enmascarado de Plata’ back into a villain. Another real-life wrestler, El Médico Asesino, was brought in to play himself as the story’s hero.

As we join the action, the villain’s diabolical plan is already in progress with the country devastated by his hurricane. Curiously, though, rather than blackmailing the authorities immediately, instead he focuses on masterminding a series of robberies. Perhaps forward planning isn’t one of his strengths, and operating his machines of immaculate destruction has taken him over his allocated budget. They do appear again later on, but then he only uses them to demolish a building, so I guess stories of their dreadful power may have been a little exaggerated.

These world-shaking events are followed by journalists Alfredo (Victor Junco) and Julio (Crox Alvarado), who are not only fighting over the next scoop but also the hand of the beautiful Elena (Aurora Segura). Both are strangely absent from the action every time El Médico Asesino saves the day, and the audience is invited to guess which one is beneath the mask and surgeon’s scrubs. Our grappling hero also gets himself a perky sidekick in the form of street urchin Freckles, played by the director’s son, René Cardona Jr.

But then, gasp!, things get weird when El Enmascarado de Plata dies halfway through the film! When he’s unmasked, it turns out that he’s just the head waiter from shady nightclub ‘The Paradise’. Cruz having another poke at El Santo for turning down the film, perhaps? Yes, the old silver mask was only the frontman for the real mastermind, the impressively masked El Tigre (you can’t have too many masked characters in a film). The arch-enemies lock horns for a final confrontation in the gripping conclusion. Who will win, and which of our heroes will Segura choose as her suitor (a somewhat less gripping outcome).

Leaving aside the slightly convoluted genesis of the film, this is an interesting halfway point between the US serials of classic Hollywood and the Mexican wrestling films to follow. From the former, we get the usual round of fistfights, narrow escapes and kidnappings, but there are fewer actual cliffhangers, which presumably made it easier to cut down the original episodes into a coherent feature. Fans of the Mexican films to follow will recognise the obsession with masks and secret identities (three!), although they may feel a little short-changed by the prioritising of fisticuffs over wrestling action. Despite being a real-life fighter in the square ring, El Médico Asesino seems a little slow and awkward compared to the more athletic fighters that followed in his footsteps.

Although the film does contain some genuinely enjoyable moments, it feels a fair bit longer than its two-hour running time as the story never really develops. This was quite probably down to its origins in the serial format, but the endless round of captures, escapes and repetitive fight choreography becomes a little wearing long before the final curtain.

It’s perhaps not surprising that El Médico Asesino made way for other more charismatic screen luchadors, although he did appear in all-star wrestling cavalcade ‘The Champions of Justice’ (1971). Cardona went on to a spectacularly long career in cult cinema with dozens of noteworthy features to his name, including ‘Santa Claus’ (1959), ‘Wrestling Women vs The Aztec Mummy/Las luchadoras contra la momia’ (1964), ‘Santo and Dracula’s Treasure/Santo en El tesoro de Drácula’ (1969), ‘Night of the Bloody Apes’ (1969), and ‘Santo and the Vengeance of the Mummy/Santo en la venganza de la momia’ (1972). His son soon moved behind the camera to join him and has a very similar directing pedigree. Spy thriller ‘SOS Conspiracion Bikini’ (1967) was followed by feline horror ‘The Night of a Thousand Cats/La noche de los mil gatos’ (1972), Jaws ‘homage’ ‘Tintorera’ (1977) and ‘El ataque de los pájaros’ (1987) a film about killer chickens.

A film for those interested in the evolution of the Mexican Wrestling movie phenomenon. Somewhat less than essential for everyone else.

Santo Vs Frankenstein’s Daughter/Santo vs. la hija de Frankestein (1972)

‘I’ve told you already; the red switch is there to blow up the lab if we’re discovered.’

The daughter of renowned scientist Dr Frankenstein needs the blood of silver-masked wrestler El Santo, for her rejuvenation experiments. She kidnaps the sportsman’s girlfriend so she can lure him to her secret laboratory and plans to use the creatures she has created to subdue him…

It’s time to head south of the border again with everyone’s favourite luchador as he confronts yet another mad scientist in the name of truth, justice and the Mexican way. Showing no sign of slowing down after ten years and more than 30 movies, el Enmascarado de Plata teams up with new director Miguel M Delgado to deliver the usual mix of monsters, fights and fun in a surprisingly efficient package.

Freda Frankenstein (Gina Romand) has a pretty decent work ethic. She’s stitched together one creature from the parts of seven corpses, created another by injecting a man with gorilla blood and kept herself and her colleagues alive for centuries with an anti-ageing serum. But she’s got problems. Truxon, the gorilla-man, is reverting too far to his simian roots, cut and paste Ursus won’t get up off his slab, and she needs her rejuvenation serum more and more often as she’s been using it for a very long time.

It’s this last problem that’s the most pressing, but there’s a solution at hand. Many years earlier, the doctor was ringside at one of El Santo’s matches and managed to harvest a sample of the great man’s blood. On analysis, it proved to contain the TR Factor, a super healing element that aids in the restoration of damaged tissues. Romand believes she can use it to spice up her special serum and who can argue with that after we see him despatch Argentinian opponent El Toro in the square ring? It’s an impressive victory considering that the cheat slips on an iron ring and beats our hero with it. The referee does take it from him (eventually!) but doesn’t bother with a disqualification or anything like that. Hell, he doesn’t stop the fight for a few seconds to give the man in the silver mask a chance to recover! But, no matter, Santo is unstoppable and wins the bout, which was an elimination for some world title or other.

Being an evil fiend, rather than just asking El Santo for his help, Romand kidnaps his excitable girlfriend, Norma (Anel). She plans to lure the wrestler to her secret hideout and keep him in check with Ursus and Truxon (both played by Geraldo Zapeda) and her gang of henchmen, led by One-Eye (Carlos Suárez). El Santo races to the rescue, of course, accompanied by Anel’s bossy sister, Elsa (Sonia Fuentes) and the usual madcap mixture of action and grappling follows, accompanied by the inevitable exploding lab equipment.

The Santo series had descended into a well-worn and predictable formula by this point, and Delgado’s film, written by regular contributor Fernando Osés, rings very few changes to it. However, the film possesses an energy that’s quite a contrast to tired entries such as ‘Santo Faces Death/Santo frente a la muerte’ (1969) and the rather shabby (if hilarious) ‘Santo and the Blue Demon vs. the Monsters/Santo el enmascarado de plata y Blue Demon contra los monstruos’ (1970). Delgado gives the movie a very brisk pace, and there’s plenty of incident and action. Also, there’s a sense of decent production values here, with any budgetary limitations well concealed for a change. Interestingly enough, it’s one of only five entries in the series where El Santo himself has a producer’s credit.

One of the film’s main virtues is Romand’s performance as the mad medico. She’d already made an appearance in the series way back with a leading role in ‘Santo vs The Infernal Men/Santo contra hombres infernales’ (1961), one of the two films shot back to back in pre-revolutionary Cuba that kickstarted the whole franchise. Here, she seems to be revelling in the nastier aspects of her character. Having granted her followers a much-extended lifespan, she holds the withdrawal of the serum over their heads as the ultimate threat, keeping it from one of them as an example to the others. Of course, he ages rapidly and becomes an instant mummy, being interred upright in an open coffin beside the remains of others who had presumably displeased her. She even recruits new followers by administering her concoction to old men desperate to regain their youth. Rather than chew the scenery, she plays it entirely straight throughout and, although that means fewer laughs, it does give the drama more grounding than usual (if you can use that term about a Santo movie!)

Strangely enough, the film was thought lost for many years and only resurfaced around the Millenium. Director Delgado was a veteran filmmaker who had previously specialised in comedy but went on to take the megaphone for some of El Santo’s subsequent adventures: ‘Santo and Blue Demon vs. Dracula and the Wolf Man/Santo y Blue Demon vs Dracula y el Hombre Lobo’ (1973), ‘The Vengeance of the Crying Woman/La venganza de la llorona’ (1974) and ‘Santo and Blue Demon vs. Dr. Frankenstein/Santo y Blue Demon contra el doctor Frankenstein’ 1974). Screenwriter Osés has many ties to the series and was an ex-warrior of the square ring himself. He wrote and or acted in more than 20 of them and performed the same function for El Santo’s hombre, The Blue Demon, during his parallel movie career. Going further back, it was Osés who played masked hero La Sombra Vengadora (The Avenging Shadow) in a quartet of films in the early 1950s, which are generally regarded as paving the way for the whole Mexican Masked Wrestler movie phenomenon.

An entertaining 90 minutes in the company of everyone’s favourite silver-masked luchador. Yes, it ticks all the usual boxes in precisely the way you expect, but it has a lot of fun doing it and takes the audience along for the ride.

Cult Cinema Book Review – The Mexican Masked Wrestler and Monster Filmography by Robert MIchael ‘Bobb’ Cotter

Now playing on my YouTube channel; my review of ‘The Mexican Masked Wrestler and Monster Filmography’ by Robert MIchael ‘Bobb’ Cotter. Had a lot of fun with this one – giving my editing skills a workout and using some real neat animations. I got to wear my Blue Demon mask again too! 

Cult Cinema Book Review: ‘Santo, the wrestler with the silver mask – A guide to all his films’ by Felix Hahlbrock Ponce

Here I am back on YouTube with a new ‘Cult Cinema Book Review’!

This week I’m discussing ‘Santo, the wrestler with the silver mask – A guide to all his films’ by Felix Hahlbrock Ponce.

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